Oceana, the international marine conservation organisation, is engaged in a campaign to end of the use of shark liver oil, known as squalene, in cosmetics products. Europe is a major force in the production and trade of squalene, and the campaign has included investigative visits to fishing ports and cosmetics shops, and discussions with cosmetic companies and squalene manufacturers, to gather information about uses, trade and markets for this product and the sharks it comes from.
Oceana has received notice that Unilever, a multinational company famous for many brands of food, personal care and household products, has decided to remove shark squalene from its cosmetic brands, including Pond’s and Dove, and will replace it with a plant-based version. According to Unilever, the new production will begin early this year and new formulations are expected to appear on market shelves beginning April 2008.
Squalene is an organic compound found in certain animal and plant sources, and is used as an emollient in various cosmetic products, such as creams, lotions and glosses. Squalene oil can be harvested from the livers of sharks, where it is found in great quantities. Deep-sea sharks (those living in ocean depths of 300 to 1500 metres) have especially large reserves of squalene, as their livers can comprise up to one-third of the weight of the entire animal. Consequently, deep-sea sharks are often caught specifically for their squalene oil. The excessive catches of these animals have contributed to dramatic population declines of certain species, some of which are on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. Oceana has been campaigning to end the wasteful deep-sea gillnet fishery for sharks in the Northeast Atlantic since 2005.
Shark-based squalene has a readily available substitute on the market that comes from a purely vegetable origin. Squalene can be obtained from olives (a component of olive oil) and it has the same qualities of animal-based squalene and is less expensive than the animal version.
With the decision to end using shark-based squalene, Unilever has joined other European-based cosmetic companies that informed Oceana that they do not use this product from threatened animals and prefer sustainable plant-based sources. Like Unilever, L’Oreal is currently completing phase-out of production with shark-based squalene and its substitution with the plant-basted ingredient. Beiersdorf, LVMH, Henkel, Boots, Clarins, Sisley and La Mer (an Estée Lauder brand) have either made the decision to stop using animal-based squalene or had a policy to never use it in the first place, according to the information these companies provided to Oceana.
Sharks are species which play a crucial role in the balance and health of marine ecosystems but, due to their particular biological characteristics, they are especially vulnerable to overfishing. Sharks, and in particular deep-sea species, are slow-growing, long-lived, and produce few young. Often, their populations can not recover from the same rate at which they are exploited and today over one-third of European shark and related ray populations are threatened with extinction. Sharks are considered target species in many industrial fisheries around the world, and are also frequently caught as by-catch in fisheries targeting other species.
“Oceana is satisfied to see that some of the biggest names in the cosmetics industry are recognizing their corporate social responsibilities and choosing not to contribute to the extinction of these important animals,” said Rebecca Greenberg, a marine scientist with Oceana and coordinator of the shark campaign. “We encourage people to become educated and responsible consumers by asking cosmetic retailers about squalene sources and directing their purchases towards companies that have never used this animal-based product in cosmetics or that have made the decision to replace it.”
Oceana has shown its willingness to continue conversations with other companies, cosmetic and otherwise, that still use shark-based ingredients for their products, and encourages those companies that currently use the plant-based squalene to highlight this on their finished product packages.